Buddha vs. the New Atheists
The lovely image above of "[a]n offering of rice... left in a 'spirit house' in a Laotian town" graces Buddhist agnostic Stephen T. Asma's article arguing that "the wacky, superstitious, cloud-cuckoo-land forms of religion... should be cherished and preserved" — The New Atheists' Narrow Worldview.
"Many of the new atheists have recognized that Buddhism doesn't quite belong with the other religious targets, and they reserve a vague respect for its philosophical core," the author writes. "I'm glad. They're right to do so. But two days in any Buddhist country will painfully demonstrate to its Western fans that Buddhism is an elaborate, supernatural, devotional religion as well."
Later, he continues, "Contrary to the progress-based story the West tells itself, animistic explanations of one's daily experience may be every bit as empirical and rational as Western science, if we take a closer look at life in the developing world." He reminds us that in "places where later religions like Buddhism and Roman Catholicism enjoy formal recognition as national faiths, much older forms of animism constitute the daily concerns and rituals of the people."
Of course, there is much with which to disagree in Prod. Asma's article. As much as we might question "the progress-based story the West," the idea that "animistic explanations of one's daily experience may be every bit as empirical and rational as Western science" is not that convincing, especially from a fellow who "find[s] much of the horsemen's critiques [of monotheistic religion] to be healthy." Still, it is refreshing to read a lampooning of the "best-selling atheists [who] are embracing their 'dangerous' status and daring believers to match their formidable philosophical acumen" as "soldiers of reason."
A couple of ideas come to mind. First is Korean novelist Hahn Moo-suk's reminder that this blog's namesake, Matteo Ricci, S.J., "publicly announced that he had come to China to supplement Confucian belief, and to attack the absurdity of Buddhism," as she said in her novel Encounter. And then, in defense of animism, which the author calls "the Rodney Dangerfield of religions," Rod Dreher's retelling of "linguist Daniel Everett's experience living deep in the Amazon rainforest with a primitive tribe" comes to mind — All That is Seen and Unseen.